Jack Pearson is a fictional character. He is the patriarch of the Pearson family, the family many of us have let into our living rooms every Tuesday night. For those avid fans, I have to preface this by advising you not read further if you have not seen the episode that aired after the Super Bowl this past Sunday. SPOILER ALERT!!!
I watched the episode and like many, cried tears of grief along with Rebecca when she went to Jack’s hospital room and discovered that he did die from a heart attack brought on by smoke inhalation. Rebecca refused to believe the doctor who stopped her at the vending machine to break the bad news of Jack’s untimely and unexpected passing. Of course, the fans everywhere had been speculating for months about his death, as we had been teased in so many episodes.
Reality aside, I want to talk about the character of Jack Pearson. Why do men and women alike love him so much? Why are millions of Americans sobbing about the death of a fictional character? The obvious answer is that he was relatable. The family is relatable. Blue collar Pittsburghers meet in a bar, fall in love, get pregnant with triplets, lose a baby, gain an African American son (the very same day!), raise children, and deal with life as it’s thrown at them. Jack Pearson, through all of the heartache and all of the family struggles, is steadfast in his love and devotion to his family. He’s a hard worker, he loves and worships his wife, he treats his children with love and respect and best of all, he loves his daughter and constantly reminds her that she is beautiful JUST THE WAY SHE IS. Kate, the daughter, has a weight problem. She is teased by other girls at the pool. Jack loans her his shirt so she can cover up, never once making her feel that she is anything less. He adores his sons Kevin and Randall and never once do you see him raise his voice or lose his patience. He is perfect. He is also the perfect husband, working hard at his job, working around the house, surprising his family with trips and presenting a united front with Rebecca. He is handsome, romantic and always cheerful. The fact that Jack has a drinking problem and is an admitted alcoholic is always tucked away in the series and attempts to show that Saint Jack is not perfect after all. Oh, but I disagree. He goes to AA meetings and readily admits to his ER doctor that he cannot have pain pills because he’s a substance abuser. Jack never sneaks pills. Jack doesn’t look at other women and Jack doesn’t yell at his kids. Jack ultimately saves his entire family and family pet but in doing so, inadvertently took his own life.
Jack is like Jesus. As you see him emerge from the house in flames, you see him carrying the family dog, rising out of the ashes like a phoenix.
We like to see characters we can relate to and there is something to be said for losing yourself in the life of another family for an hour per week. However, we must be careful. I have heard so many women say that they wish their husbands were more like Jack. I have wished that I had a father who was so accepting. My father has personal issues with weight and he passed that on to me. He is not perfect, but he’s my father and he’s all that I have. I love him despite his faults. It is so tempting to compare the reality of our own dysfunctional relationships with the relationships we see created for our consumption on television or in the movies. There is a reason women like to read romance novels and that’s fine. If we women heard our husbands longingly wish that we were more like Rebecca, we’d be rightfully hurt. The same goes for our husbands, our sons, our daughters and our fathers. They are real people with faults. They’re not Jack and Rebecca or Randall, Kevin or Kate. I love the Pearsons, too. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s when I start to feel sad for my own father daughter relationship that I need to question my own reality and accept it for what is in, warts and all.